Tag Archives: longwool

Fibre prep: Wool Combs

Don’t be scared, despite looking quite lethal this is not a torture implement, it is just a nice piece of scary-looking equipment designed to comb and fluff up fibres in a neatly ordered fashion.

With raw fleece, I haven’t always been entirely happy with the prep I obtained on my carders (rolags) or on the drumcarder (sliver of semi parallel fibres) with the Gotland especially. It spun up slightly hairy and even with low twist felt more wiry than the raw fibres had led me to expect. So I thought I’d try out another type of prep in the form of combing.

According to Anne Field’s Spinning Wool Beyond the Basics (1) ‘using wool combs does produce the best parallel arrangement of fibre’  which is essential for worsted spinning. Yet she doesn’t go on to describe the method, arguing that they are a very costly piece of equipment and that the method is thoroughly detailed in Peter Teal’s book Hand Wool-Combing and Spinning.

There are quite a few different types of combs, and you can read more about them and how they are used here. The ones I borrowed from my guild are English style combs, which means they come with a station which can be clamped to a table. Actually the box says they are Peter Teal combs, designed by the expert himself, they have been out of production for years and are considered to be the classics of the genre. Wingham Wool seems to be carrying a range based on the design, although I haven’t tried them myself.

I was quickly shown how to use them at the guild but I like to search for videos whenever I try a new technique. I’ve looked at quite a few different videos, and I think my favourites are the ones from the blue mountain handcrafts channel. The combs they sell look absolutely beautiful and there is much positive talk about them although I haven’t had the pleasure to handle them. Their videos on how to use all of their tools are very clear and simple.

I enjoyed the combing process and turning the fibers into a long roving through a diz, a lot more than I’d enjoyed carding. Maybe it’s all just a question of practice…

I’ll report later on how the combed fibres spin… At the moment I’m ever so slightly swamped and only managing to steal away a few hours a week for knitting and spinning, hence the lack of regular posting.

How about? what’s your favourite fibre prep tool or method? If you’re using combs already, do you have a favourite style?


Gotland: Fleece washing

Gotland fibres from Wells Manor Farm

Gotland is a long wool breed, often said to have been established by the Vikings (there is quite a bit of its history on the British Gotland Sheep Society website if you’re interested in finding out more). The fleece  is  often praised for its lustre and softness, and I have to say that mine didn’t disappoint.

I bought the fibre at Unravel in Farnham, Well Manor Farm had a stall where they also sold their own natural dyed yarns (Eddie bought a skein and knit herself a beautiful shawl). I didn’t buy a whole fleece, just a small bagfull of fibres, because the moment I put my hand in the bag to get a feel I knew I was doomed and had to take some home, but I’m not all that experienced at prepping my own fibres (okay, you could say I’m pretty much a novice on the matter).

I washed the fibre in a series of 5 buckets with very hot water (decreasing in temperature) and washing up liquid in the first two. The fibers had hardly any vegetable matter at all and were really quite clean as much as wool straight off the sheep can be. I wasn’t exactly overly careful when handling the fleece in the water, I tried to minimise the amount of swishing around in hot water, but I still squeezed water out of fibers before moving it on to the next bucket. There doesn’t seem to have been any felting and I’m pretty happy with the results.

One mistake I made in the washing process of the Gotland, was to swish the water and detergent too much before putting the fibre in, I wanted to make sure it was all well distributed in the water before I set the wool in, but I ended up creating a lot of foam, which then proved quite difficult to rinse out of the fibres. Actually my wool dried with some soap suds in. I don’t think washing up liquid would damage the fibre like soap would, so I just decided to set it to dry that way rather than risk felting by too much handling in water. In the future, I’ll be more careful not to create so many suds…

The fibres were not very greasy and washed well, but I still took them through the 5 buckets a couple of times to make sure I got most of the lanolin and soap out. I spun them in my salad spinner in batches to get rid of excess water. I then opened up the wool gently so that there were no clumps to make sure it would dry more easily. The next morning I set them on an old towel in my garden, where they seemed to dry in no time… Well, four-five hours or thereabout. As far as I could see they didn’t suffer attack by either birds or cats, despite our garden being quite the social scene of the animal world.

I then tried using my handcards to make some rolags and spin my lovely Gotland but I have to admit I was quite disappointed with the samples I spun. It was a bit too frizzy for my taste so I decided I was going to try a few different techniques with this, and aim at spinning a truly worsted yarn, for a smooth and lustrous feel.

This required some equipment I didn’t have but my guild came to the rescue and I now have everything I need to proceed… So my next post on the subject should be on prepping the fibres with wool combs, since they apparently give the best alignment of fibres for worsted yarns.

How about you? Any experiences with Gotland? Any suggestions on the prepping, the spinning or even the knitting? I haven’t quite decided yet what I will make with it, I guess it depends on the qualities of the yarn I obtain…